Tilton House

I found not only the article I was looking for, I found a photograph! So exciting.

Fannie Tilton‘s mother Martha Crutchfield Tilton, was one tough lady. I will let the article speak for itself:

“No person who visits Chico, whether upon pleasure or business intent, fails to learn of the Tilton House or to partake of its hospitality, and nowhere can be found a more fitting and unique monument to women’s intelligence, integrity and industry. If for no other reason, this hotel should be patronized by all admirers of grit, whether in man or woman, and especially by those who consider woman as much of a human being as man [The feminist in me has a HUGE problem with this last statement. I mean, really?? I’ve no doubt this was written by a man, but to be printed in a newspaper? This was written 125 years ago, but, wow]. In this case, in fact, it has been proven that a woman — alone, unprotected, with the burden of a family on her hands and against all odds, has built a business known all over Northern California, and has involved a fortune estimated at $20,000 from a puny sum of thirty dollars.

“This remarkable woman, is Mrs. M. E. Elliot (formerly Tilton), proprietress of the Tilton House, the various buildings of which occupy a frontage on Broadway, from Third to Fourth Street. Mrs. Elliot, who is not only a thorough business woman, but a very obliging as well as unassuming one, gave the following particulars of her life to your correspondant: ‘I was born upon my father’s farm in Randolph County, Missouri [in 1842]. My father was William Crutchfield, a native of Virginia, and my mother, Barbara Matlock, a native of North Carolina. After my first marriage in Randolph County, in 1865, to J. B. Tilton, a carpenter and a contractor, we lived there until 1876, when we came to California, settling in the town of Colusa, where Mr. Tilton followed his trade. Moving to Bartlett Springs, he built the big hotel there. We lived there two years and then moved to the Willows, in Colusa County, where I opened dress-making parlors. Selling out seven years ago, we came to Chico, and I first rented the Johnson House for lodgings, in conjunction with the Chico Restaurant, on Second Street, between Main and Broadway. After improving the latter to the extent of $7,000, by the addition of another story, I gave up the Johnson House and ran the business three years, at the end of which time I sold out and went to Greenville, Plumas County, where I built an $8,000 hotel. There I remained for three years, when, my hotel burning down and nearly losing everything I had, I returned to Chico, and took a large room on Third Street, back of Tickner, Burnham & Co.’s store, and started the Union Restaurant, on but thirty dollars capital, and with two children to take care of. I started in depending solely upon my exertions and you may form your own opinion of my success when I say that I fed over a hundred people at my first meal. After running the restaurant very successfully for a year, I leased my present main building for five years, also erecting a substantial brick addition. I have also lately taken the Butterfield building at the corner of Broadway and Fourth Street, which swells the number of my rooms to seventy-five and enables me to accomodate ninety persons. My charges are twenty-five cents for beds, whether in single or double rooms, and twenty-five cents for meals, and I have a free bus going to and from all the trains.’

“Mrs. Tilton has had two handsome daughters by her first marriage — Mrs. Fanny Terrill and Miss Norah Tilton — both of whom assist in the housework. Her second marriage occurred on December 7th, last, to William Elliot, a lumber and cattle man of Chico, and a membe of Pride of Butte Lodge, No. 69, and Uniform Division, No. 12, Second California Regiment, Knights of Pythias, He is a fine-looking gentleman and capable assistant to the popular and energetic woman who has built up so successful a business.”

James B. Tilton (1835-1883)

Wow. What a woman. What a life. I did a little detective work and calculation, and I reason that this article was written in 1887. The article mentions that Martha married her second husband the year before, which was in 1886. Her first husband, my grandfather, passed away in 1883. I do not know the circumstances.

Martha ran several businesses, including a dress-making parlor, and restaurants and hotels. She took what little money she had and made it work. She was smart, driven and determined, and fought her way to success. She had many, many challenges to deal with, including the death of her husband and nearly losing everything in a fire. She even earned the respect of an unnamed male reporter for an unnamed newspaper. Which, in a time where women were still wearing corsets and didn’t have the right to vote, was something indeed.

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3 Responses to “Tilton House”

  1. I found Fannie in a census when she was married to Jack Becker, her third husband. You might find it interesting that he was 11 years younger than she was! That was kind of something for that day and age!! I got a good laugh out of that one. She was a tall woman, as well, according to my father.

  2. Please note that the photo identified as James B. Tilton is actually William Blane Crutchfield, Martha Crutchfield’s father.


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